The undertaking of the siege of a foreign city 2000 miles from one’s native land without a well-formed plan of attack, definitive leadership or secure supply lines would be so foolhardy that no one in their right mind would attempt it or entertain any serious thought of success. Yet in 1096, with only the slogan, “God Wills It” to unite them, that is precisely what 100,000 Christians from across Europe set out to do in a religious odyssey to secure the Holy City of Jerusalem against the infidels who held it captive. Conor Kostick’s book, The Siege Of Jerusalem, tells the story of this first Crusade from the initial call by Pope Urban II for his new “Moses and Aaron,” Count Raymond and Bishop Adhemar, to lead God’s people back to the Holy Land and deliver it from the pagans to it’s bloody conclusion and aftermath.
The commonly held belief that, as Kostick relates, “to join this fight for God was to be guaranteed a place in heaven” stirred the imagination and passions of people across the social spectrum. This resulted in the Pope’s original plan being usurped as other visionaries such as Peter the Hermit, rallied vast groups of people to join them in this remarkable undertaking.
The complexity of the political and religious structures of the day makes the initial portion of Mr. Kostick’s work heavy with details about the personalities, alliances and history of the key participants. Indeed, the reader may feel the need for a scorecard as the fortunes of the knights, princes and clerics rise and fall quickly in the early chapters of the book. This necessary background information is peppered with numerous fascinating anecdotes, such as the story of the woman who owned a “divinely inspired goose” or of the Italian Norman Count, Bohemond, who made crosses for his army by cutting apart his most valuable cloak.
In these benign as well as the many other more sordid tales, Kostick demonstrates a thorough mastery of the subject matter. In his enthusiastic attempt to convey the essence of the siege and the gritty feel of this first crusade, Kostick often takes the reader on a detour that at times may distract him from the main objective of the narrative. However, the patient reader is richly rewarded as she at last arrives in Jerusalem with the remaining 20,000 crusaders.
Kostick’s frank portrayal of the sheer barbarism of the Christian Army juxtaposed with their superstitious piety provides an account that at once repels and fascinates the reader. The massacre of the non-Christian inhabitants in the taking of Jerusalem overshadows the enormous accomplishment of the pilgrims—one they thought would be celebrated on the Christian calendar alongside Christmas and Easter. This book provides the reader with a comprehensive overview of one of Christianity’s darkest hours in its recounting of an event that continues to impact lives even after nearly 1000 years have passed.